Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy - 1976

Other novels

Plot summary

US Secret Service high-up Colonel Mann is the main foil to the British agent in this story, which is set in the Arab world and the wastes of the north African Sahara desert, where our hero is sent to take custody of a defecting Russian scientist, Professor Bekuv. The narrator is unnamed and we are left to draw our own conclusions whether this is still 'our man' from the earlier novels.

It is not ... but the reader is not discouraged from thinking so!

Things don’t go according to plan in this story. Loyalty is tested and never certain, as it becomes unclear as the novel develops who is actually chasing whom, and where the threat is coming from. For example, the narrator falls under the spell of one Red Bancroft, but didn't calculate that she would then fall for the Professor's wife. The book ends in the emptiness of the central African desert.

Why it's enjoyable

One of the few Deighton novels set in the Arab world, it’s full of twists and turns and the reader can really enjoy the interplay and banter between the cocky British spy and the stiff-collared US colonel. This time our hero - ever the ladies man - risks losing his 'bird' to a lesbian relationship with a female Russian scientist, an intriguing twist on the 'honeypot' scenario of many spy novels. The denouement in the Saharan desert is confusing and rather rushed, but overall, it's a satisfying read if a little lacking in any real sustained dramatic excitement.

Sample dialogue

'"Miss Bancroft is your problem - eliminate her and your wife will come back to you."

"Yes, I will kill Miss Bancroft."

"That would make your wife hate you for ever."

"I will order one of these Arabs to kill the girl."

"Your wife will guess you gave the order."

"Yes," he said. He stubbed the cigarette into an ashtray. "It must look like an accident."'

Related fact

The jacket design is another by Raymond Hawkey. It was he who proposed the snappier title for the US first edition of Catch a Falling Spy, in response to objections from the American publisher that the original title was too Disney-like. Len Deighton has subsequently written that he preferred Hawkey's title for the book.

TwinkleTwinkle

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy, UK first edition, 1976

Did you know?

Len Deighton's decision to set the large part of this book in the Sahara desert was prompted by his participation as a time marshal in a rally organised by a friend, which ran from the UK to Nigeria across the Sahara, and back